Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica)

Description

A medium snake growing to 1,6 m in length, slender in build, but becomes robust when large. The head is distinct from the neck with a broad temporal area. The colour is light to dark brown or olive with some scales edged in black. The skin between the scales is black giving this snake a fish-net stocking appearance on the dorsal side. The ventral is light pink to creamy or yellow or apricot colour with from one to three irregular black bands on the throat. Some specimens are mottled towards the tail. The scales are smooth and in 23 – 25 rows at midbody.

Dentition

Fixed front fangs. The fangs are modified with the exit on the front of the fang, which gives this snake the ability to spray its venom towards an attacker’s eyes as a form of defense. The venom can be ejected from a reared up position or from down on the ground without rearing up. The snake simply gapes the mouth and sprays in the direction of the attack.

Venom

A cytotoxin that causes extensive, usually superficial, skin and subcutaneous tissue destruction. Some victims may have multiple bites. A bite on the hand or foot, that does not receive early treatment, will result in the bones being exposed, with the result that this needs to be repaired by skin grafts. A prolonged hospital stay is the usual result of this type of damage. Antivenom can be used for up to 5 hours from the time of the bite, to prevent or limit the amount of tissue destruction. After this, major damage would have been done, and the use of and repair would be done in theatre. Neurological symptoms seems to be limited to drowsiness in man, but death in small rodent prey is rapid from the neurotoxins. The lethal dose for adult man is estimated at 50 mg and the venom yield is 80 – 200 mg the average being 140 mg. Venom can also be sprayed and venom in the eyes will cause instant burning pain, the victim will be rubbing the eyes because of the pain and the snake is busy escaping into the grass. Venom is sprayed from a reared up position but also from ground level without making a hood. Effective distance of the venom spray is about 2 – 2.5 meters.

Distribution

From southern KZN, north to Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, Gauteng. Further into Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.

Habitat

This snake prefers open bushveld areas, with grass, rocks or boulders and streams.

Habits

This medium sized cobra is very common and is also often implicated in snakebite in KZN, Mpumalanga, Swaziland and Mozambique. It can be active during the day, but becomes more active towards evening. This snake preys on almost anything and is fond of frogs, toads, rodents, birds and their eggs and nestlings as well as other snakes. It is often found around human habitation, and a common pest at game lodges, where it poses a threat to visitors. The most common encounter with this cobra would be venom spat in the eyes, but bites to sleeping people are also regularly reported. This occurs mostly in Zululand and Swaziland where the rural people sleep on grass mats with their doors open at night because of the oppressive heat, allowing these cobras to enter their houses, with disastrous results. Bites can be on any body part as the victim is bitten while sleeping.